As I find myself enveloped in November darkness, leaving work under a black and cloudy sky, I start to think about Christmas parties, sparkly champagne, fairy lights – anything that might lighten and brighten my nights. And because it’s Nablopomo, and I decided to blog about all the past jobs I have had, I think about the Christmas job I had at The Midland Hotel; that couple of weeks spent dodging drunken revellers on the dance floor while collecting empty pint glasses on a silver tray.
Somewhat tired after the first term of university, having drunk my own body weight in cider and black, I staggered home to hear that extra wine waitresses were needed for all the Christmas parties at The Midland. All of my friends were working there, too. We manned bars, stood behind tables opening wine bottles, collected pint pots and topped up wine glasses for 12 hour stretches, until we were light headed and our feet ached. We ricocheted around and around that enormous hotel, from drinks reception in one room to banquet in another, carrying ice and corkscrews, getting lost on purpose for a break and a change of scenery.
The worst were the office Christmas parties which went on until 1am, when the clearing and setting up for the next day would start. It was the men that I remembered. Not the quiet, polite men, obviously; the rude, lecherous men, the ones who would point out that they could see down my top as I was pouring wine, or crash into me as I carried my silver tray loaded with glass, and then blame me for dropping the drinks. When the signal was given that the bar was closing, people would grab at anyone dressed in black and white and demand that they queue at the bar for their last drink, thinking that we could jump the queue.
I was collared one evening by a group of drunken revellers, my protestations that waitress service ended an hour ago, and that I was now merely a glass collector falling on deaf ears.
‘We want 10 pints of beer and one pint of lager,’ they said ‘on our tab.’
Reluctantly I headed to the bar and ordered 10 pints of lager and one pint of beer, a minute before it closed for the night.
They were furious when I returned with the drinks, and all started drunkenly shouting at once. I was afraid I was going to get lynched. Or arrested on the spot. The oldest member of their party (the boss?) held up his hand
‘That’s enough,’ he said ‘my daughter does this. She’s just a student trying to earn a bit of money, aren’t you?’ turning to me ‘We’ll take them.’
I escaped from them gratefully, leaving them grumbling amongst themselves. I remembered this small kindness for a long time, but a small part of me always wondered (and still does) what if I had not been a student trying to earn money, but ‘just’ a waitress. Would it then be unnecessary to show me any courtesy?
I intend to enjoy my ‘work do’ for Christmas, but I will always be conscious of that waitress standing at the side of the table. She too is someone’s daughter, she’s probably been working for hours without a break. I imagine how she must feel – feet aching, head spinning, mouth dry – and remember to spare a smile and a tip for her Christmas cheer.